Sometimes you fall in love with a city, and that’s what happened with Portsmouth.
Last December, Bill and I decided that we would forgo traditional Christmas gifts and instead try to gift each other memories in the form of weekend getaways. We would each pick a place that we felt the other would enjoy visiting and, as part of the gift, hand-pick a few places to visit that we thought the other would enjoy.
Bill knocked it out of the park.
While I gave him a weekend in Portland, Maine, Bill gave me a weekend in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a place neither of us had visited before but that we had heard good things about. As part of his gift, Bill actually put together a presentation (!) showing me all of the reasons he thought I’d like it, including quaint gift shops; delicious places to eat; and books, books, and more books.
He knew I would love it and he was right.
It started with breakfast, which technically wasn’t in Portsmouth, but that’s okay. We stopped at Eat, in Springfield, Mass., where I ate a grilled blueberry muffin and drank pumpkin coffee and everything felt right in the world. (There was also a delicious omelette and hash browns but I’m really here for the muffin, guys.)
The drive up was as foliage-filled as it could be. It’s no secret that the foliage this year was subpar, but the drive up to New Hampshire at least gave us a small taste of what the foliage looked like.
And what’s not to love about downtown Portsmouth? It felt like a quintessential New England town, living up to all of its to-be-expected descriptors such as “quaint” and “darling”, while managing to be eclectic, weird, and witchy (yes, witchy).
We visited so many shops that had interesting items for sale and I spent way more money than I intended, but by and large my favorite thing we did all weekend was spend time at the Portsmouth Book and Bar. Its name speaks for itself—it’s part-bar, part-used book store and I was obsessed the moment I walked in. I scoured the store and ended up with an armful of books, enjoyed a glass of wine, ate some delicious food, and Bill taught me how to play chess. I lost, but it was so much fun that I didn’t care. We spent hours there on Sunday morning and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it anywhere else or with anyone else.
Some of my other Portsmouth favorites:
- Portsmouth Athenaeum—A 200-year-old library that every book lover or enthusiast absolutely must visit because oh my god it’s a 200-year-old library!
- Prescott Park—A beautiful park by the water, which I imagine is even better in the summer. Be sure to stop by the docks (for views of the water) as well as the garden.
- Pickwick’s at the Banke—Technically a store, but it’s also part of Strawberry Banke Museum and you don’t have to pay to get in. The best description of this place comes from its website: “[A] shopping experience reflecting Portsmouth’s colonial maritime heritage, welcoming visiting schoolchildren as well as museum visitors and local shoppers with a uniquely theatrical shopping experience.” Also, you can buy a giant pickle if that’s the kind of thing that you’re into.
- Portsmouth Book and Bar—A perfect (YES, perfect!) place for book and booze lovers.
- Bull Moose—A must-visit music, video, book, and video game store. I scored a “Hocus Pocus” DVD for $5 and the entire “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” series for only $45 and yes, it was worth every penny, thank you.
- Gus & Ruby’s Letterpress—The shop is a bit pricey, but the wares are really cute, especially if you’re into office supplies like me. My $16 Beyonce mug was absolutely worth the cost. I use it every day!
- 20 Below Boutique—Who doesn’t love affordable clothes? This is like a TJ Maxx or Marshall’s in that it offers name brand clothes at a steep discount, but without the florescent lights and chaos. I scored two beautiful sweater dresses from Ann Taylor for just $40 total.
- Diversions Puzzles & Games—If you like games and/or puzzles, definitely stop in here. I’m not even a huge game or puzzle fanatic, but it was so great inside! Bill and I picked up some new dice for our ongoing Dungeons and Dragons game that we play and I also snagged a Harry Potter Christmas puzzle, which we absolutely will be assembling before the holidays.
- Off Piste—Another pricey, but very cute shop that’s worth checking out. They offer an eclectic mix of things for your home, books, pins/patches, and more.
- Macro Polo—We wandered into this shop not knowing what to expect and we were laughing at how weird everything inside it was. They offered everything from joke mugs to butterfly hair clips (yes, from the 2000s!) to books to miniature plastic hands. It was great.
- Pickwicks Mercantile—A very cute shop with books, jewelry, perfumes, and more. I loved it, especially its Harry Potter section.
- Deadwick’s Ethereal Emporium—A witchy shop featuring all things related to folk magic, crystals, and more. If you love witches or Halloween (which I do), this is worth checking out.
- La Maison Navarre—An unintimidating, modern yet warm place to stop for a bite to eat. Bill spotted this place and when he saw that they served crepes, he knew we had to visit. (I love crepes!) We got one with butter and local maple syrup, so it tasted like a pancake. We also got half a dozen macarons and they were delicious!
- The Friendly Toast—This place has weird decor, but the food is on point. We went for breakfast and we both loved our meals. Bill got MAAAAAAAAAA, Meatloaf Benny and I got the French toast (on cinnamon raisin bread) with caramelized apples and bacon. So good! Service was a little slow, but the food made up for it. Go early to avoid the long wait!
In all, it was an incredible weekend in a fun little city and I can’t wait to go back. Portsmouth, we’ll be seeing you again soon.
There were a surprising amount of great signs in Portland, too. Here are some of my favorites.